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Economic and political analysis-Window on culture-Media criticism

Friday, January 18, 2008

Real ID Cometh; New Orleans Bleeds

Stephen Lendman writes about institutionalized spying in a good new article. He talks about RealID, a piece of noxious legislation that forces states to comply with federally mandated rules on driver's licenses.

Much of the impetus for the Act came out of post-9/11 impulses which framed the event as essentially preventable had better security procedures been in place. Numerous hijackers had been able to acquire fraudulent identification through state driver's license branches. Theoretically, the Real ID provisions will make it harder for terrorists to obtain identification which could then be used to access the transportation grid.

States have objected both out of the costs involved and the sheer bureaucratic nightmare of proving people's identities through their birth certificates, which are issued by thousands of different agencies.

Lendman explains:
The Real ID Act of 2005 required states to meet federal ID standards by May, 2008. That's now changed because 29 states passed or introduced laws that refuse to comply. They call the Act costly to administer, a bureaucratic nightmare, and New Hampshire said it's "repugnant" and violates the state and US Constitutions.

The federal law mandates that every US citizen and legal resident have a national ID card that in most cases is a driver's license meeting federal standards. It requires it to contain an individual's personal information and makes one mandatory to open a bank account, board an airplane, be able to vote, get a job, enter a federal building, or conduct virtually all essential business requiring identification.

Illegal immigrants will be targeted, and documentation will be impossible. This will make it certain that illegal immigrants won't have proper identification and therefore be denied access to vital things like car insurance. If an illegal immigrant is facing deportation, why should they care about the trouble that causes their arrest, as long as it doesn't force a long jail sentence? Short of a serious felony, the severity of the infraction would matter little to the deported.

While illegal immigrants might not commit murder to escape apprehension, but they would most likely flee if they could, knowing that they'd be deported if caught. Who knows how many unlucky Americans will die or be grievously injured in the crashes which are far too often the way these police chases end. And if the illegal immigrant facing apprehension is in fact wanted for serious charges, they have even less to lose. Post-accident drive-offs would be common, as would hit-and-run as we know the 20 million or so illegal immigrants share our roadways.

Workplace Enforcement

"...States must begin checking license applicants' Social Security and immigration status over the next year" Lendman says.

Employers have been lax about Social Security identification processes and reporting. About a year ago, I'd read an article by David Bacon about a ICE raid on a Smithfield (N.C.) meat-packing plant raid where union activity had presented a threat to the lower wage opportunism that illegal immigrants seem to offer their employers. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid hadn't been a chance enforcement action but rather a preemptive strike at the union and threat it posed. One-by-one, non-US citizens working there illegally were pulled into a back office and detained prior to deportation.

If immigrants were to organize, the benefits of lower cost labor would vanish. The managers of the meat packers have an incentive to keep illegal immigrants coming. Enforcement is selective, and appears vulnerable to political sway: the bosses at Smithfield were Republicans well-connected to the Bush administration.

The justification for using cheap labor is lower prices for the consumer. Clearly if we had to pay union wages, our products would be more expensive. Still, the lower wages aren't entirely passed on--owners of the plant do capture a big chunk of the savings on labor, assuming it stays non-union. So-called conservatives like to frame the immigration debate in economic terms, in the lower cost of labor's benefit to the price levels and affordability, sort of the same argument many use to defend low-cost Chinese imports by an unrestrained behemoth Walmart.

The "pro-business" aspects of using illegal immigration to lower the cost-of-wage pool don't play to fondly to downsized Americans. For those slaving at peasant wages, the appearance of large amounts of cheap Mexican labor might inspire them to work harder and longer just to keep their low-paying, service sector jobs. Paradoxically, these "business iconoclastic" tendencies separate Republicans from their largely anti-illegal immigrant base.

Feeding the Monster

Corporate demands and lobbying anchor the appetites of a national security state, so it's no surprise that RealID reflects the desires of businesses who sell to the federal government. Spying is a big opportunity and the legal limitations are nothing more than a speed bump in the desire of corporations to make money from security contracts. The new police state offers unprecedented wealth-making opportunities, especially when few remaining legal constraint of privacy are being systematically ravaged by a federal government held sway to the corporate profit motive.

With RealID, the corporate motive is in selling software and technologies that expedite data-collection and monitoring. Lendman pinpoints the corporate organization trying to create feeding space at the federal trough:

"...the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) is lobbying for Real ID's passage. Its members include high-tech card makers like Digimarc and Northrup Grumman and data brokers like Choicepoint and LexisNexis that profit by selling personal information to advertisers and the government."

Whatever the profitability of private sector data harvesting and collection, inaccuracies in the data will make tracking extremely inaccurate means of preventing crime and terrorism. Marketers would undoubtedly glean whatever commercially beneficial information they can from tracking the movement and behaviors of potentially everyone. Data mining is the plumb for the companies who claim to be protecting the national security.

Part of the RealID process involves cross-referencing data using Social Security numbers. So many states have complained to the Department of Homeland Security to the point implementation of RealID was pushed years into the future. The National Security State has succeeded in aligning social security numbers with reporting of criminal activity in real-time, nationwide, and feed notification of an arrest to your employer.

Corporations who profit from using illegal immigrant labor might also find the law a major threat that can lead to fines and other punitive measures, should the government chose to enforce the law. Preventing illegal immigrants from getting government-issued identification may be a goal of the Act, but that hardly means illegal immigrants won't still be working the jobs they do now. If anything, the RealID act will push this employment further underground, where employers will be able to maintain sub-standard working conditions which violate labor laws. Government itself would lose whatever employment taxes are paid by illegal immigrants. Payroll taxes would be likely collected by unscrupulous employers but never sent in, due to the obvious fact that such reporting would lead to prosecution of the employer.

Lendman explains that many databases contain fraudulent information, which is hard to correct. Ask any victim of identity fraud how easy it is to purge one's record of inaccurate credit reporting items. Imagine the effect of being confused with a terrorist in today's topsyturvy world of paranoia and fear.
Simply sharing a last name could mean lengthy detentions in places where ID is required, which Lendman identifies as "airports, border checkpoints, other points of entry and other security-related areas."

Simply expanding a security cordon could bring unwitting passersby into a high security zone, where IDs would be demanded by security personnel. It's also quite likely the private sector security forces would demand RealID in places like shopping malls, parking garages, and anywhere there's the possibility of violence.

Accessing your identification card could allow private sector employees to access whatever information is digitally housed in the bar code. Future plans include microchips inserted into the ID, where they could be scanned from a distance, both by authorized personnel and anyone with the technical means to scan the card's data.

I'd read that terrorists could use RFID scanners to determine the nationality of people with a simple reader, from up to 15 feet away, which would identify people in order to separate or target them. A plane hijacking would be one place where screening could be used to identify hijacked passenger's race and ethnicity as well, assuming the biometric data on the microchips include that information. Anyone who's followed actual hijackings by radical Islamic fundamentalists knows this will put Jews at far higher risk of harm.

Positively terrifying is the technical side of microchips. Lendman describes a futuristic, Orwellian scenario of unprecedented spying opportunities:
"RFID technology is advancing, and one company plans deeper implants that can vibrate, emit electroshocks, broadcast a message to the implantee, and/or be a hidden microphone to transmit conversations. It's not science fiction, and what's planned for the UK will likely come to America."

Lendman's article explores a connection between chip implants and cancer. The idea of a microchip constantly radiating energy waves, or infrared signals passing through the skin can hardly be healthy.

I couldn't help remembering of new weapon research in the field of crowd-control. There now exists in the US arsenal a machine that can send a stream of microwaves to a group--presumably demonstrators. Those in the affected zone immediately feel a burning sensation and run to escape. Apparently the weapon leaves no traces, which raises the possibility of its use as a untraceable torture weapon, or in other non-violent, crowd-control situations.

The US Navy also developed a device that can allow words to be transmitted, delivered at a distance to the inner ear of the affected. The beam could send a warning to the helm of a speeding boat--as in the recent Iranian speedboat blowup--as easily it could implant whispers and voices to an unknowing victim who'd most likely be driven crazy. The long-term health affects of these new weapons may be unknown or simply ignored as they are with Depleted Uranium weaponry.

RealID will be required to fly as soon as May, 2008 by those states that comply with the federal directives. Access to Federal buildings may be restricted for those under 50 years of age or so--an age which DHS claims typically younger terrorists are unlikely to have reached. Legal employment in the absence of a RealID could become impossible which of course leads to increases in illicit and thus un-taxable employment.

I wonder how many perfectly authentic US citizens would contemplate going off the books if they could, like the hippie gypsy in the Who song, with employer-withheld taxes and Social Security constituting up to 50% of employee pay.

Some states consider the legislation a legal challenge to their state constitutions, or hold well-founded fears about the loss of privacy and potential for illicit data mining of the contents of the new IDs. Expect challenges for RealID in the future. Enforcement on the Social Security work provisions will likely become lax and states and cities will find ways around the cumbersome, expensive, unfunded mandate which will do very little for our security.

New Orleans Chicanery

You may have seen a powerful video on the demonstrations outside New Orleans City Hall in December. Here's another video of the appeal by public housing residents and activists in the chambers of the New Orleans City Council, as people are forcibly kept outside. Both videos contain some overlapping footage but are worth watching closely. A Tazering is shown.

Completely unnecessary, the public housing crisis is essentially ethnic cleansing--the removal of predominantly African-American residents from largely undamaged apartments which are demolished to make way for private sector housing.

Lawyer Bill Quigley is now studying the HUD actions in New Orleans. He wrote Eighteen Months After Katrina.

Public housing in New Orleans is being demolished on order from Washington, D.C., according to Quigley, through HUD. Worse, private development has replaced the public, in a picture perfect example of disaster capitalism: "...the demolition and private development would be financed by federal funds and federal tax breaks designed to help Katrina victims!" (link)

Quigley continues:
"Nearly $100 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds were designated for the private developers. Another $34 million in Katrina Go-Zone tax credits were also donated to the developers."

I've commented on Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine here before. The brute conversion of New Orleans public housing to private exemplifies corruption at the highest levels. The public interest is subverted by corporate greed as it works the puppet strings of a government it controls. The money flows not to the needy, or even the victims of the disaster but instead the already wealthy who can expend vast amounts of political influence to sway governmental decisions and redirect the flow of federal contract through crony relationships with those in power.

In disaster capitalism, a natural or man-made catastrophe serves as the anvil against which functioning remnants of government are hammered out and converted into opportunities for private-sector speculation and right wing social experimentation. In the wake of the crisis, Money dries up, schools are shuttered, municipal workers furloughed. Local government services decline in response to the tragedy and unresponsive bureaucracies like HUD take over.

The reason for de-fanging local authority and control in the rebuilding process is highly conspiratorial. A federalized response allows public projects like demolishing perfectly adequate public housing to be auctioned off to the bidder with the most political influence in Washington. Often the goal is not to recover and repair but rather to exploit economic opportunities generated for the benefit of the for-profit sector. The fabric of their culture left in tatters by the disaster, the remaining population becomes guinea pigs for social experimentation, government down-sizing, and predatory capitalism. Charter schools are brought in, public hospitals realigned, and additional government functions privatized or abandoned.

The actual results of recovery are secondary to public perception that something is being done. Doing its part to mold perceptions, MSM coverage tends to foster a mistaken belief in the inadequacy of government-led responses. In New Orleans, FEMA has mismanaged everything, which of course makes private sector efforts appear more efficient. Meanwhile, micromanagement of the recovery from Washington means that many rescue resources were denied access. In the continuing recovery, local efforts have been stymied in favor of dispassionate bureaucratic remedies implemented from afar, which contrast so vividly with the activists in the videos who demand that the New Orleans City Council and police allow people from outside to enter the public building.

Aid has flowed not to where it is needed--like the beleaguered Ninth Ward--but to large outside contractors. Motivated by profit, these companies in turn outsource much of the actual work. Several companies have been accused of hiring illegal immigrants; Bush suspended Davis-Bacon wage requirements just for the occasion.

Transparency is another hallmark of disaster capitalism in action. Should people realize the scope of the theft and exploitation of the tragedy, they'd surely be forced to act. But the mainstream media ignores the plight of the victims. Oversight from the federal government is lax and no-bid contracts make accountability difficult. Like Iraq, the privatization creates nothing more than a string of uncoordinated, ineffectual profit centers for Big Business. None of the contracts seem to require actual results and therefore much of the Ninth Ward remains in tatters to this day.

Additional Resources
"DHS Issues Proposal for States to Enhance Driver’s Licenses", Press Release dated March 1st, 2007.

"Lobbyists Advise Katrina Relief" from the Los Angeles Times.

Save Public Housing in New Orleans, a well-done video including an interview with Bill Quigley.

Quigley both wrote about two priests arrested at Fort Huachuca, Arizona and defended them in federal court. He also covered demonstrations at Fort Benning's School of the Americas (now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.)

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